It was an annual tradition - a day of food, music and dance at Lodi Lake that drew hundreds of revelers despite sizzling August temperatures.
But this year's Pakistani Independence Day Celebration has been canceled in the wake of an ongoing FBI terrorism investigation and an acrimonious rift over leadership of the local mosque.
The result: Lodi's Pakistani community isn't in a very celebratory mood this year.
"Two imams have been incarcerated and people are concerned," said Taj Khan, a longtime community leader. "We don't want to celebrate while they're being held."
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Robina Asghar, deputy director for the Community Partnership for Families of San Joaquin, helped organize the annual celebration along with the youth-driven South Asian Culture Club.
The event aimed to celebrate Pakistani culture while welcoming other segments of the community. Canceling the event was painful but necessary, she said.
"First we need to make our own community strong," she said. "Then, we can start to build bridges to other communities."
The split in Lodi's Pakistani community revolves around Muhammed Adil Khan, a charismatic imam whom federal investigators portray as the mastermind behind alleged terrorist activities involving four other men. He has agreed to be deported rather than fight federal immigration charges. He has yet to be charged with any terrorist acts.
Adil Khan, a Pakistani immigrant, joined the Lodi Muslim Mosque in 2001 and quickly launched plans to build a new mosque and Muslim school. He bought land, recruited board members and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars toward the project.
In early 2004, Muhammed Shoaib became president of the mosque. He refused to endorse Adil Khan's land purchase unless the mosque was listed on the deed and the building's name was changed. Shoaib filed a lawsuit against Adil Khan in San Joaquin Superior Court, and mosque members took sides.
The rift grew quickly, with mosque meetings ending in shoving matches and, in one case, a spitting match.
Brian Chavez-Ochoa, an attorney representing one faction in the mosque rift, said his clients hope to resolve the disagreement by holding a new election. The other faction, led by Shoaib, is weighing that proposal, Chavez-Ochoa said. Shoaib could not be reached for comment Friday.
The controversy prompted lower attendance at last year's Independence Day Celebration, said Taj Khan (no relation to Muhammed Adil Khan).
The June arrests of Adil Khan, 47; his son Mohammad Hassan Adil, 19; his protégé Shabbir Ahmed, 39; and ice cream vendor Umer Hayat, 47, and son Hamid Hayat, 22, further dampened the community's spirits, Asghar said.
"It is not a time of celebration when there is division within our own community," she said. "We need a healing process first."
On Thursday, men in long, flowing tunics streamed to the mosque for the traditional noon prayer, and a few young men chatted out front after the service. None would talk about the cancellation.
Several blocks away at the Pak-India grocery store in downtown Lodi, Mohammed Shoaib (no relation to the mosque president) said he is disappointed about the cancellation.
"We just read about the cancellation in the paper," he said. "We don't know what's going on or why it was canceled."
About the writer:
- The Bee's Erika Chavez can be reached at (916) 321-1016 or email@example.com.